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HELLO, My Name Is Joan, and I …..

… am an Information Addict. Information overload, also known as infobesity or infoxication, is a constant in my life. How about yours? Both conferences I attended this summer had sessions on time management, organization, workflow, productivity; topics that are directly related to how well we cope with the amount of information in our lives and the work that we produce using it. So I know I’m not alone on this island.

My quandary exists in that I want to get the most out of both my professional and personal life. Each feeds the other, and yet it is extremely important that they also be kept separate. My compulsion to read, collect, organize and store in all areas, means I have more data than I have time to digest. And as I refuse to let work slide into my personal life, how can I keep a healthy division. I read professional literature on my way into work, and on the way home I to read for pleasure, to decompress. And even though my children’s ages mean I don’t have little ones hurling themselves at me upon my arrival at home, my family and personal life is still very important to me. That means that I do not bring work home. I don’t even read business emails in the evening. Yet, as the Executive Director of an association, a large part of my job is done outside of regular work hours. I knew when I took this job that it was not a traditional 9-5 job, but no job should be 24/7; mental health experts agree.

So my dilemma: with my healthy respect for the division between my two worlds how do I fit in everything I want to do in both worlds? Am I managing as well as possible? In thinking about some of what I heard at the conferences, I need to update my systems. Old ways and approaches are not as efficient as using some of the new technology available.

As a “Boomer”, I understand that my approach is different from today’s Gen Y’ers and Millennials. For them, their 2 worlds seem to merge more readily as they text, tweet and generally live on their Smartphone. Perhaps this is a generational phenomenon as some of the younger people I have worked with seem to be able to mix work and personal and yet have a balance. They seem to be much more at ease reconciling the various parts of their lives. Or at least, they don’t seem as stressed out about it as I do.

In those seminars I referenced at the top of my column, the biggest takeaway was to maintain your health: eat properly, exercise and sleep enough. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We also have to be realistic. If you are like me, and your to-do list is longer than the amount of time in which you have to do it, you need to prioritize and share work with those around you. But I am constantly self-checking: have done all that I can to ensure everything gets done? I still need some help. There, I said it. Now what do I do about it? A challenge is ahead.

I have been a user of the GTD (Getting Things Done) method of workflow and organization. I am a big fan of David Allen. His system has worked for me for years, but I am feeling that it is no longer enough for me. I started using it as a paper based tool; perhaps taking a page out of our younger co-horts’s life app, and adding technology to the mix will make me more productive. The confession, I need help. The challenge, that by my next article I will be able to write about my success using some of the tools available to me. At this point, I would love to engage the “hive-mind” and learn what works for you. I am open to suggestions.

A quick disclaimer: I do not endorse any of these products, nor am I in any way benefitting from mentioning them. I am just reporting on what I have heard or read. Nor is this list exhaustive: if you have time, do a search for the best software/apps/tools to get organized, keep workflow efficient, you will find more than enough suggestions and best-of lists. One I found was a recent Forbes article, “5 Best Apps for Getting and Staying Organized”. Interestingly enough the first app called Things, is a Mac app based on GTD. Obviously I am not the only fan of David Allen’s!

Evernote’s tagline is “Remember Everything.” Interestingly enough GTD has a setup guide to help you configure Evernote to its full potential. I think I will be trying that out.

If you are looking for something simpler, 30/30 is a Task Manager App — a fancy way of saying it is a to-do list, and apparently one of the best apps of 2012.

Priority Matrix is a priority and task management tool based on the Eisenhower method. It visually represents your tasks, making it easy to see where you need to be focusing your time.

Scrivener helps with the writing process, be it fiction, non-fiction, podcast or blog post. According to their site it is “the best solution for writers of all disciplines for structuring and writing first drafts” to the final draft.

Get help with passwords. No need to remember them all, use something like LastPass or chose another from the myriad of products available.

Doodle is a personal favourite for getting people to decide on a date for lunch or dinner, or a work related meeting that crosses many Outlook Calendars. It’s a lot easier than emails flying back and forth trying to decide on a date.

Finally, email. Remember how much time we thought email would save us. Now, how much time do you spend writing a long explanatory email, getting back a passive response, to which you respond again for clarification . . . when a phone call could solve the whole thing? The first technology I’ll be using more of is the telephone. I am going back to the conversation wherever possible. Email can be the biggest drain on our time, if we allow it. We need to take control of how we spend our days and not let email control us. Schedule time to read and reply. Turn off the notification so that you will not be distracted by it when you are doing work. You know what you need to do, now do it.

I look forward to reading your feedback, trying some new things and reporting back in 2 months about the experience of ramping up the productivity tools in my life.

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Joan! For me it is always email that becomes overwhelming. I put messages aside when I read them quickly, fully intending to go back and give proper responses. And then they get lost in the cracks (apologies to anyone waiting for a response from me!!) A couple weeks ago I sat down on a Sunday afternoon to catch up on responses. 7 hours later I had made a good dent in them, but still have many outstanding.

    I was starting to give up, and then got a nice offer via a Facebook friend to take Steve Dotto’s new course on email management “3 Steps to Inbox Zero“. I am still working on it, but found it beneficial for getting my email more under control. Taking the intro course gave me access to other recordings he has made that walk through more advanced work. (Like you, I’m getting no personal benefit from promoting this–I just found it useful). Dotto gave me some new ways to think about my email.

    I also realized a big part of my challenge is that people transmit long lists of questions. So, I feel compelled to have the full set of answers before I can respond. I am now switching my behaviour from trying to answer these long lists via email to booking a phone call instead. It is just so much more efficient, especially if I can find a mutually good time for a call.

    The other piece I think about is delegation. I work solo so that is more of a challenge. I have a virtual assistant based in Alberta who helps me with admin tasks, but another consultant I have worked with has been urging me to get an “in person” assistant. It is something I keep thinking about; the trick for me is getting a firm grasp on what types of work that person would do so that I could find someone who would be the right fit.

    It’s all definitely a work in progress!

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